By Larry Ray Hafley
“1. In an older congregation where there are no elders, does the business meeting replace the eldership? 2. If the business meeting replaces the eldership, can it make decisions without consulting the located preacher, just like the eldership? 3. In an older established congregation where there are no elders, does the located evangelist have equal, partial or no voice with all other members in the business meetings?”
I do not know the events that have precipitated these queries. The answers which follow are not to be taken and applied to a local situation where conditions and factors may exist that are unknown or unrelated.
Answer to Question One: The response to this question depends in part on the function of the “business meeting” and the “eldership.” Elders are to “watch for . . . souls” (Heb. 13:17). They are to shepherd, to feed the flock (church) of God. This is done by being examples to the flock (1 Pet. 5:2,3). Elders, as superintendents or overseers, are to guard all the flock (Acts 20:28). This they do by teaching. Elders are concerned with the physical and spiritual needs of the members (Acts 11:30; Jas. 5:13-15). These duties are assigned to elders by the Lord. Shall we presume to assume these works may be done by “the business meeting?” If so, by whose wisdom?
A business meeting is scriptural and expedient. It need not cease when elders are ordained. One might ask, “When elders are appointed, do they take the place of the business meeting?”
The age of the congregation is of no consequence in this regard. Whether it be young, middle-aged, or old, “the business meeting” cannot properly replace “the eldership.” This question would not be entertained if brethren had a scriptural concept of the work of a bishop. Because elders have been transformed into general building security and maintenance men, check signers and approvers, and gospel meeting schedulers, it is accepted that in the absence of such august men the business meeting is a substitute. And with a carnal view of the eldership, a business meeting is indeed a fine replacement for it, if not an improvement. If there was not so much woeful ignorance and error concerning the work of elders, the business meeting would not be considered in the same class. That such a question can be asked is a reflection upon Christians and elders.
Answer to Question Two: This question is based upon a “yes” answer to the first, so we shall not directly respond. Actually, the heart of this question is couched in the one that follows. However, a comment may be in order with respect to elders making decisions without consulting the local preacher. They may do this with all propriety, but under ideal working conditions, they would probably not need to do so very often. Elders should not be the secret service, the covert operations organization of the church. Their leadership should be based on mutual love, respect, and knowledge of the church. This bond of peace will not find them making many decisions that are unknown or unexpected by the flock they tend. Elders should be working closely with a preacher due to the common goal of their respective labors (Titus 1:5-2:15). It would certainly be unwise for an evangelist and the elders to be without acquaintance and communication in their tasks. True, a preacher is not an elder. Elders may make decisions without consulting him, but in a harmonious and effective relationship, the occasions are rare.
Answer to Question Three: Members who have worshiped for years in one place often fancy themselves as the real church while the preacher is a “new” face who is to be tolerated because he is essential and until he goes on his way. He is always an outsider, never one of “us.” For this reason, those who have “for years” served as unofficial “leaders” of the church regard the preacher’s presence in a business meeting as an intrusion. His suggestions, especially if they are not in agreement with the powers that be, are threats.
On the other hand, a preacher who moves into a new area must be aware of his limitations. He is a foreigner to some extent, and he should proceed with caution lest he appear as one who is coming in “to take over this here church.” A preacher may unintentionally put the brethren in “an older established congregation” on the defensive when he sets forth his mere “proposals” that sound like marching “orders” to the brethren. He should go slowly and earn the respect of the brethren as he learns them and the community. If he does not, he will alienate himself. It requires patience and forbearance on the part of the evangelist and the brethren. Perhaps a dose of Ephesians 4:1-3 is in order-“. . . walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
With brotherly kindness and charity, an evangelist will be accorded the same treatment as any other member. Where there is pride, selfishness, and the spirit of Diotrephes (3 Jn. 9), you may expect to find envy, strife, quarrels, partyism, gossip, slander, evil surmisings, “and such like.” It is an unhappy story that has been told all too frequently. It is a tune whose haunting and depraved melody will not be silenced.
Truth Magazine XXII: 26, p. 418
June 29, 1978